Monthly Archives: August 2011

It’s Only Natural Restaurant

Once I had made my decision to move to Connecticut, I immediately switched my city from Seattle to Hartford on Groupon and Living Social so that I could start receiving emails with deals around the Connecticut area. It only took a few days before a Living Social deal popped up that I was swayed into buying. For $20, I could get a $40 gift card to eat at It’s Only Natural Restaurant.

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It’s Only Natural is an all vegetarian restaurant and is described on their website as:

Once a humble, hippie deli counter in the North end, I.O.N.® has grown organically through the years (thanks to a handful of hard working Vegetarians) into an award-winning Restaurant. Our Bread is baked every morning, before we open to the public. Our Vegan Cakes and Cupcakes are a constant source of Joy for us to present. We have a delicious selection of Organic Wine and Beer, and hope to represent LOCAL wineries soon. The entire menu is prepared here using the best available ingredients. It’s Only Natural® has been voted “Best Vegetarian Restaurant” in the Hartford Advocate’s readers poll since 1992, thanks to the hard-working staff, and because of loyal customers like you.

I knew immediately that my lovely (vegetarian) cousin would happily accompany me to dinner, so it was only a matter of setting a date once I moved to Connecticut.

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The inside of the restaurant was decorated very eclectically with tons of local art on the walls. For being a restaurant, I was impressed that they managed to keep a small, local vibe to it – almost like your neighborhood coffee shop.

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My favorite thing about the restaurant, however, was that the tabletops were painted to be a chalkboard! Each table had a small cup of colored chalk on it that made for perfect self-entertainment while waiting for our food.

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There were so many wonderful choices on the menu, that I really struggled with trying to select only one for dinner. I had stalked out the menu online ahead of time, and thought that I was going to order their Pierogis, but was instead tempted by one of the daily specials, the Heirloom Tomato Quinoa Salad.

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The Tomato Quinoa Salad came with plenty of mini heirloom tomatoes, quinoa, sunflower seeds, and tofu and was lightly dressed in a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

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It was so delicious and very satisfying! This was my first time having tofu that wasn’t in miso soup, and I have to say, I’m a fan. My cousin ordered the tomato and onion quesadilla and also gave it rave reviews.

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I really enjoyed my experience at It’s Only Natural and would definitely recommend it to any vegetarians in the Connecticut area. Heck, I would even recommend it to any meat eaters who might be looking for something a bit on the lighter side. They also serve fresh juices and have a bakery, so it could also be a fun place to go and sit during the day and get some work done. Of course, your dining experience is only as good as your dining company, so make sure to bring a friend!

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Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries from Pinterest

A few weeks ago, Mister E sent me an email at work inviting me over for dinner at his parents’ house later that night. But this wasn’t going to be just a normal dinner at his parents’ house, you see. His older sister, brother-in-law, and their adorable one-year-old son were visiting from California, and this would be my first time meeting them as the girlfriend.

Instant panic set in as I realized that I should bring something over to the house but would have less than a half hour to prepare anything after work. I started racking my brain for ideas of something small, easy, and sure to impress. Thankfully, I had read Kristin’s post on Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries just a few days prior. They sounded delicious and I figured I could manage to make them in a short span of time.

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At home, I already had three out of the five required ingredients, so after I left work, I made a mad dash to the grocery store to pick up the rest. If anyone in Connecticut saw a crazy lady running through the aisles with graham crackers and cream cheese in her hands, I apologize on that poor girl’s behalf.

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

(recipe from SugarDerby)

  • 16 strawberries
  • 8 oz. package of reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup powered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large plain graham crackers, crushed

Directions:  After rinsing your strawberries, cut the tops off and hull out the middle using a small, sharp knife. In a bowl, combine cream cheese, powered sugar, and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture into a Ziploc bag and cut the tip off a corner to create a pastry bag. Pipe the cream cheese into the strawberries. Dip the strawberries into the crushed graham crackers to coat. Serve and enjoy! (Store in a refrigerator if not serving right away.)

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Please excuse any blurry photos. Remember, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get out the door throughout the entire process of making these.

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As an afterthought, I realized that I could have just bought a container of cream cheese frosting to save time as opposed to making my own. But like my mom said, at least I had the satisfaction of knowing that these were completely homemade. Since I didn’t have time to let my cream cheese soften on its own, I put it into the microwave for 15 second intervals to soften it quickly. My only regret on these strawberries is that I wish I had more time to crush my graham crackers finer. They were a bit too chunky for my taste.

I was a little bit clueless as to how I should plate my strawberries, so I ended up just coating the bottom of a large plate with additional crushed graham cracker crumbs and standing my strawberries on their tops. I also added a few fresh, whole strawberries along the side for anyone who might not be a fan of cream cheese (aka, Mister E’s nephew).

The verdict? They were insanely delicious and were a big hit with everyone! The best part though was that it only took me 20 minutes to make, meaning I had a few minutes to spare to actually run a brush through my hair and put on some lip gloss before dashing out the door.

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Ok, but onto important things. One of the most intriguing things about Kristin’s post on these strawberries was that she mentioned that she had found them on Pinterest. I had heard of Pinterest before on blogs like Young House Love, but thought that it was just for interior decorating and DIY projects. I didn’t know that they had food on it!

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A few days later, I had signed myself up on the website and all I can say is that I AM IN LOVE. The best way I can describe Pinterest is as a inspirational board where you can “pin” images from across the internet that include a link to where you found that image. It’s sort of like a visual bookmark site. My favorite thing about Pinterest though is that it’s also a social website where you can follow what other people are pinning and like or comment on them.

You can pin anything from delicious food, fashion inspiration, hair tutorials, DIY projects, quotes, and funny images. The possibilities are endless. You should definitely check it out and follow me if only to get a laugh now and then.

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(source)

Do you have a quick and easy recipe that you go to when you need to impress? Sharing is caring!

Hurricane Food Essentials

What a crazy week in Connecticut! First we feel the D.C. earthquake and then we get pummeled by a hurricane!

Now, being that I lived in Florida for 15 years, I’m no stranger to hurricanes. My family once went TWO weeks without electricity or running water and suffered excessive damage to our property (not the house, thankfully) after Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm, back in 2004. So being that Hurricane Irene was going to be a Category 1 storm by the time she made her way to Connecticut, I wasn’t all too concerned. But… I’m not foolish to ignore Mother Nature, so two days before the storm, I decided to stock up on essentials. You know, just in case.

In my house, I already had peanut butter, Nutella (yes, Nutella makes the essentials list), canned soup, and canned beans. I made a trip to the grocery store looking to round out my pantry, and came home with this:

That would be a package of croissants, a bag of cinnamon raisin pretzel sticks, and two bunches of bananas. These were the only food items that sounded appealing when I asked myself what non-perishable items would I be happy living off of for days if forced to?

As it turned out, Hurricane Irene had a meaner bark than bite when it came to my neighborhood, and I was thankfully spared of any damage. She did, however, take my power out for 16 hours on Sunday. And in that moment of crisis when I lost my electricity, my thoughts all turned to one thing.

DON’T LET THE ICE CREAM GO TO WASTE!!!

So to recap:

  • My food essentials list consists of carbs, bananas, and Nutella.
  • You should keep actual books (you know, those things that people used to read before the internet was invented?) around your house for the times that you are cutoff from the rest of the world (i.e. Facebook).
  • In a time of emergency, don’t forget to think of your frozen dairy products.
  • It’s probably not worth buying croissants as part of your hurricane preparedness since you will eat all of them before the hurricane even comes.

Did you get any damage from the hurricane? What’s the longest that you’ve been forced to go without electricity?

Jell-O Fruit Slices

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Right before my family’s Fourth of July get-together, I came across an adorable, kid-friendly treat idea in the Food Network magazine, Jell-O fruit slices. A cool, summer treat that I could make that all the little kiddos in my family would enjoy. Perfect!

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Making these were so incredibly easy. To start off with, I grabbed two each of oranges, lemons, and limes. I sliced each fruit lengthwise down the middle and then scrapped out the insides with a help of a knife and grapefruit spoon.   

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So here’s the trick to this whole thing. Once you have your empty fruit “cups”, you place them in a muffin tin to hold them upright! Brilliant, right? You’re gonna want to make sure that you get your cups to stand as level as possible.

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After setting my fruit cups up, I got to working on my Jell-O mix. I used 1 box each of sugar-free orange, lemon, and lime mixes.  

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The only hard part about this whole process was getting my fruit cups to lay level so that I could fill them up to the brim with Jell-O.

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I let my fruit cups sit in the fridge overnight to set, but they probably only needed a few hours. After taking them out, I sliced each cup into thirds to create my wedges.

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Adorable, right? I was so pleased with how my fruit wedges looked and with hardly any effort being put forward!

When I arrived in New Hampshire with my fruit slices in hand, several of the adults ohhed and ahhed over them and were all curious how I made them. But when it came time for the real judges, the kids, I only received lukewarm reviews. One small cousin, that will remain nameless, even went so far as to say, “I don’t like it. Did you even try these?” Ouch. I think I know how the contestants of The Next Food Network Star feel now. 

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I couldn’t believe that the fruit slices were a bigger hit with the adults than the kids! So, after some deep reflection on my fruit wedges, I decided that the next time I make these for a family gathering, I would probably step up my game and pull out the booz to turn these into Jell-O shot fruit slices and make just a few plain ones for the kids.

How fun would it be to make Jell-O shot fruit slices and add them to other drinks as garnish? But regardless of whether you make these for a party or just as a cool, summer snack, I know you’re going to enjoy them (provided that you’re not my little cousin who has a future as a food critic).

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Have you tried to make a kid-friendly meal or snack only to get bad reviews?

Meals with the Mister, V. 2

Welcome to another weekly edition of Meals with the Mister (aka my Mister E).

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You may be catching onto the fact that in order for a meal to be considered “Mister-worthy”, there better be meat somewhere on the plate. In response to my heirloom tomato pizza, Mister E just simply stared at me and asked “are you going to add chicken on top?” Errr…. no.

So when trying to brainstorm dinner ideas for my chicken-loving guy, I decided upon making him a BBQ chicken macaroni ‘n’ cheese – inspired by one of his favorite dishes, Mac ’N Jack, at Plan B Burger.

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (I used a blend of fontina, gruyere, cheddar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cups shredded chicken (I used leftover chicken breasts, but you can also used a rotisserie chicken)
  • 1/2 cup BBQ sauce, plus extra for topping
  • 2 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 Tbsp flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a pan over medium heat, melt 1 Tbsp of butter. Once it starts bubbling, add your chopped onion and reduce the heat. Allow to cook 10-15 minutes until the onion starts to carmelize. In a medium-sized saucepan melt 1 Tbsp of butter over medium heat. Once it starts bubbling, add flour and stir continuously for two minutes until it thicken. Reduce your heat and add the milk. Continue to stir until mixture thickens. Add in the grated cheese, ground mustard, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Continue to stir until the cheese has completely melted and remove from heat. In a separate bowl, combine shredded chicken and BBQ sauce.

In a large baking dish, add your macaroni, carmelized onion, and cheese sauce. Mix well to coat pasta evenly. Top with chicken and drizzle extra BBQ sauce on top. Cover with tinfoil and place the dish in the oven. Allow to cook for 30 minutes.

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Above is what the macaroni ‘n’ cheese looked like before going into the oven and below is what it looked like after coming out of the oven. I know there doesn’t look like there’s a big difference, but I promise you, there is.

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To serve, I prepared corn on the cob and a mixed green salad with a honey dijon vinaigrette dressing.

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And while I still prefer Plan B Burger’s version of this dish more, Mister E gave me two thumbs up on the dish. Success!

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Must Love Dogs, Kids, and Food

As I’ve alluded to a little bit before on here, I have some extended family in Connecticut. But to be clear, when I say that I have some, what I really mean is that I have a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I have more uncles, aunts, cousins, second cousins, and cousins once removed than I know what to do with, and it’s wonderful!

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(photo courtesy of Crystal, my cousin-in-law once removed… that’s not too confusing of a title, is it?)

While Mister E was the driving force behind  my decision to move to Connecticut, my family played a large part in it. Mister E and I knew that we wanted to be together and when it was a question between him moving to Seattle or me moving to Connecticut, we both agreed that it made sense for us to both be close to family at this time in our lives.

And boy, am I happy to be close to them! I mean how can you not fall in love over and over again with this face!

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That would be my cousin’s three year-old daughter. When I asked if I could take her picture, that is the face that she gave me. It just melts my heart.

And this would by my cousin’s oldest daughter who will charm you to no end with how eager she is to help and please you.

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Oh, and this would be my uncle’s dog, Gunner. Even though we’re not related by blood, he’s still part of the family.

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I feel so lucky to be able to take part in family gatherings here in Connecticut. They’re a fun bunch who really know how to have a good time!

And what fun it was to all get together on the Fourth of July in New Hampshire! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t too cooperative, so a good portion of the day was spent inside playing games.

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However, once it did clear up, a small group of us made a beeline for the lake to check out the pretty views.

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I love seeing my family grow and expand, and could easily spend the entire day playing with all of the little ones in the group. Why is it that as soon I’m  finally old enough to not be placed at the kids’ table anymore, that’s where I’d rather be?!

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And like I said, dogs are very much part of my family, so they are usually welcomed at most family gatherings. That’s why I was so disappointed when I made the decision to not bring Prince to New Hampshire. But I figured that with his eye condition, it would probably be best to limit his exposure to other dogs. But there’s always next year!

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Aren’t those pugs the cutest?!? They would be Daisy and Donald – and they’re brother and sister which just make them all that much cuter. And that last picture would be my all time favorite picture of Gunner. If you look closely, all four paws are off the ground and he’s totally airborne!

Besides kids, games, and dogs, our Fourth of July was filled with so much good food! I can’t remember the last time that I ate so much in one day! Unfortunately, I was too distracted by all of the festivities to take many pictures, but here are just a few of the delicious things that I enjoyed that day:

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From the top is chocolate covered strawberries, s’more cupcakes, and my uncle’s caprese salad that I already recreated here. Some of the unpictured items include pasta salad, potato salad, chicken salad, steak, green bean salad, salmon, lemon sorbet, spinach and artichoke dip, and so much more that I’m probably forgetting.

It was certainly a feast and I left with so many new food ideas and recipes to try. You’ll be seeing some coming up on the blog soon!

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Heirloom Tomato Pizza

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How pretty are these heirloom tomatoes? And how cute are they? I could just stare lovingly at them all day. Well, up until the point that I get hungry and decide to cut them up and put them on a pizza.

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Thankfully for my hungry belly, this pizza was incredibly easy to make and came together in no time.

Ingredients:

  • whole wheat pizza dough
  • ¼ cup cornmeal (or enough to cover the pan)
  • heirloom tomatoes (regular or mini), sliced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, grated
  • ½ cup of parmesan cheese, grated
  • approx. 20-30 basil leaves
  • dried oregano, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • balsamic syrup, optional

Directions: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Dust your baking sheet with the cornmeal. Working with floured hands, shape and spread your pizza dough into a large rectangle (or the shape of your pan). Drop spoonfuls of ricotta cheese onto the dough and spread out to the edges. Layer your basil leaves on, followed by the tomato slices. Top with mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, oregano, and salt and pepper. Place your pizza on a lower rack in the oven and allow to cook approximately 14 minutes or until the crust edges start to crisp. Allow to cool slightly before serving and top with balsamic syrup if desired.

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Instead of using a regular baking sheet for my pizza, I tried out a new crisper pan which basically has holes on the bottom to allow for the heat to circulate better. I don’t know if I saw much of a difference.

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As far as the balsamic syrup goes, I would argue that it’s the best thing on the face of the planet. You can try making your own balsamic reduction or if you’re lazy like me, you can look for a balsamic syrup in your local grocery store or purchase it online. I personally use Mandarano. Doesn’t it make the pizza look so much more prettier?

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Has anyone else tried a crisper pan before? Thoughts?